Science, Solutions and Solidarity ensure the United Nations health agency remains central to protecting future health
COMMENT | BAZZUP | Turning the page on history’s worst conflict, nations united in 1948 to mend a bloody globe. After years of conflict, mistrust, and suffering, the world’s governments came together to create a global agreement to protect and enhance universal health.
On April 7, 1948, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Constitution went into effect, making that ambitious goal a reality. When the World Health Organization (WHO) was established as a specialized United Nations agency devoted to improving human health, it was given a specific mandate to improve the wellbeing of all people. It also had a special capacity to bring all governments and partners together at a single table.
Let’s jump to the present. World Health Day marks the 75th anniversary of WHO, and the organization’s mission and capacity for gathering people together remain crucial as ever. The commitment to prioritizing everyone’s health, from our grandparents to the children born now and in the future, needs to be renewed at the same time. The work of WHO is guided by this idea. The goal of WHO is to promote, provide, and safeguard everyone’s health.
SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19), war, climate change, and commercially-driven causes of ill health, such as junk food and tobacco, serve as reminders of how fragile our lives are. The futures of vulnerable communities around the world will continue to be in danger if we don’t continuously work to improve our collective welfare. A clear eyed commitment to making a difference in the community
“The enjoyment of the highest achievable level of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social position,” reads a key passage in the WHO’s constitution. This principle continues to direct our efforts and support our successes.
One of WHO’s most famous accomplishments is the 1980 declaration by member governments that smallpox had been eradicated. With annual cases declining by 99.9% during the 1980s, the globe is currently close to eradicating polio as well. Five tropical diseases have been eliminated or nearly eliminated, because to higher childhood immunization rates and international standards for safe drinking water, among other achievements.
Also, WHO has helped nations adopt a historic tobacco control treaty, prohibit aggressive marketing of breastfeeding substitutes, and exchange information on health emergencies that have the potential to spread globally. The first Ebola and malaria vaccinations, which are now saving lives in Africa, were developed and distributed with the help of WHO. Many people have received life-saving care thanks to WHO’s involvement in humanitarian situations. The list goes on.
There are many things about which the WHO, as well as the nations that founded it, can be proud as it enters its 75th year. Great obstacles still exist, though. In order to apply lessons learnt to upcoming challenges, WHO is evolving and adapting.
The global society is only as protected against pandemic dangers as the country that is least prepared, as demonstrated by Covid. People’s health is further harmed by a lack of access to high-quality, reasonably priced healthcare, food shortages brought on by climate change, severe air pollution, and pervasive misinformation and disinformation efforts.
Our long-term goals are to increase everyone’s level of health, guarantee that everyone has equitable access to high-quality healthcare, safeguard the planet from newly discovered pathogens, empower science and scientific knowledge to promote good health, and strengthen WHO to meet present-day and future demands.
In the wake of Covid, we are assisting nations in negotiating a historic pandemic treaty that is based on the WHO Constitution and aims to avoid and address threats jointly. Additionally, nations are upgrading their financial, governance, and operational systems as well as modifying the International Health Rules to make them applicable to a post-Covid future.
These actions are clearly needed. Covid slowed down the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in the area of health and resulted in immeasurable losses in terms of people, society, and money. By stepping up efforts to make primary healthcare the foundation of universal health coverage and by fortifying national and international systems—from cutting-edge surveillance to investments in nation readiness—we must recoup lost gains.
Members of the WHO can direct resources where there are the greatest needs thanks to data-driven guidance.
People can make wise health decisions when they have access to evidence-based advice. Misinformation and disinformation, as demonstrated by Covid, have made decision-making for nations and individuals more challenging and, in some extreme circumstances, lethal.
Three-quarters of a century after its inception, the World Health Organization still needs to be successful and efficient. We would have to start over today if the Organization hadn’t been established all those years ago. In honor of WHO’s birthday, I extend my gratitude to all nations and partners for their dedication to building the organization’s foundations in 1948 and maintaining their strength today to ensure a healthier, safer, and more equitable future for all.